Lebanon

This country item is part of the First Mediterranean CSA Mapping report generated in April 2016.

SOILSAuthor: Rita Khawand, co-founder and President of “Soils Permaculture Association Lebanon”.

Common definition

There are currently 3 active food partnerships that comply with the definition of CSA. However, they do not have any common name. When members have to define their groups, the specific wording that keeps coming up is: direct contact between rural producers and urban consumers. The oldest group dates back to 2001, and if we combine the members from all these groups, the total of eaters in these groups reaches around three hundred.

National context

The Republic of Lebanon, situated on the eastern shores of the Mediterranean, covers a total area of 10 452 km2 most of it being mountainous. The population in July 2011 was estimated to be 4 143 101 with a growth rate of 0.244% (World Factbook), the population of Beirut, the capital city, was 1.9 M in 2009.

When considering the Lebanese households’ expenses, “Food and Non-Alcoholic Beverages” came in second, with their share hovering between 18% and 22%[1]. The ventilation between the different components of this category goes as follows: meat constituted 4.9% of total household expenditure, vegetables accounted for 3.3%, and bread and cereals reached 2.9% of the total. Just as the previous category, the share of total household expenditure on food decreased hand in hand with increasing household income and size. It is worth noting that Northern residents are those who spend the most on food (27% of total expenses) among other Lebanese, mainly due to their relatively low income. In contrast, those living in Beirut and Mount Lebanon, regions that have relatively higher incomes, accounted for lesser although still considerable percentages of 17% and 18%, respectively.

Agricultural data

Lebanon is a major food importer. Fruit, vegetables and poultry production exceed the local market consumption and could contribute to increased exports.

However, the opening of Arab State markets and the Free Trade Agreements in place will certainly affect this production by allowing the import of cheaper fruit and vegetables from neighbouring countries. Farmers in rural areas need capacity-building to improve their farming methods, to increase their productivity and competiveness. This would also contribute to the development of a more environmentally-friendly agricultural sector. In 2002, agriculture in Lebanon represented 6% of the GDP, and 7% of the active population’s activities, while in 1970 its contribution to the GDP was around 9%, involving 19% of the active population. Agricultural production decreased by 12% between 1970 and 2008. This is mainly due to the effects of the post-war (1975–1990) economic crisis, and to the economic policies favouring the tertiary sector (services) over the primary and secondary sectors.

The natural advantages of the country in terms of water resources, number of sunny days, geomorphology and climate diversity would allow the development of the agricultural sector, if other socio-economic and geo-political constraints were overcome. Value chains are not properly managed, production is inferior to consumption, and imports mainly from neighbouring countries are significant. At individual household level, agriculture is mainly a part time activity, complementing other production, or service activities. Commercial agriculture is not very frequent, and when it occurs, it needs to be complemented by other sources of income.

The average size of holdings is small, reflecting the structure of this activity and the dispersal of the farms. Fragmentation and the small size of holdings are characteristic of the mountains and the South. The sizes are a little larger in the Bekaa and the coastal plains. Only 5% of holdings are larger than 4 ha, with 49% of the total Utilized Agricultural Area (UAA), while 30% of the UAA is larger than 10 ha and concentrated in the Bekaa. Of 1.1 million hectares of exploitable land in Lebanon, only 360,000 hectares are actually suitable for easy cultivation, while the total area actually planted does not exceed 280, 000 hectares of which, only 32% is irrigated. 50% of cultivated plots have a surface area of less than 5 dunums (5000m2).

Organic agriculture,

Today, organic agriculture is a growing field in Lebanon; it has been witnessing a constant increase since the early 90s. In October 2009, the Mediterranean Organic Agriculture Network (MOAN) stated that there are currently 302 organic farms in Lebanon covering an area of 9443,70 (ha). This area was then composed of permanent grasslands (6,125ha), fresh vegetables and melons (569.9 ha), cereals (493.9 ha), olives (300.7ha), greens (290.3 ha), grapes (266.5 ha), wild collection (111.4 ha), fruit trees (21.2 ha), nuts (8.0 ha), permanent medicinal and aromatic plants (2.5 ha), berries (1.2 ha), seeds and seedlings (1.0 ha) and citrus (0.4 ha).

Lebanese organic farmers are characterized by owning small plots of land and not working in groups or cooperating. They are scattered and work mainly individually[2].

History and Characteristics of CSA and Ecological Solidarity-based Food Partnerships

There is no CSA development program yet. The focus among civil society organization is more on agricultural practices, in particular permaculture. In some regions, it will be necessary to start everything again from scratch. For example, the Soils Permaculture Association in Lebanon has the experience of working in small villages in the Jezzine region – South Lebanon, where most people have stopped growing food. When tobacco growing (which used to be the main activity there), ceased someSOILS2 years ago, locals not having any entrepreneurial skills did not have the knowledge to change to growing alternative crops, and nowadays younger generations have no interest in the land and migrate to urban areas. This is why the association is focusing most of its work on the raising awareness among farmers and training them, while supporting food processing and catering initiatives – hoping that in the future these will be able to source their raw material locally. 1 or 2 events are organized every year where locals can sell their (processed) food products to visitors who come from Beirut.

With the scandals around food safety issues that broke in recent years people are becoming more and more aware of the importance of knowing where their food comes from and how it was grown, and so direct relationships with farmers are becoming more common, especially through farmers’ markets.

The local food partnerships in Lebanon could be classified in 2 types

  • Share: with or without commitment, delivered either direct from organic farmers to consumers on weekly basis, or with the help of local shops or initiatives (such as Healthy Basket – by the American University of Beirut). Usually the basket system operates on an on-delivery payment basis, except for the Healthy Basket initiative which used to have a seasonal or monthly commitment program.
  • Farmer’s market: Souk El Tayeb was the first to launch the weekly farmer’s market in 2004, and it continues to bring together conventional and organic farmers from different regions every Saturday in downtown Beirut. Some other similar initiatives have emerged in recent years such as Souk Aal Souk market – organized occasionally by the Food Heritage Foundation in municipalities or universities.

These two initiatives focus on fresh produce. On the other hand, processed food marketing is much more developed (it has more added value) and there are numerous NGOs that promote processed food items made from ethically sourced food run by rural womens’ cooperatives (such as Fairtrade Lebanon, CRTDA) in their shops or during exhibitions.

What are the official CSA structures? What are their links with public institutions?
Souk El Tayeb (NGO)

Food Heritage Foundation (NGO)

These NGOs might collaborate with the public authorities occasionally or through some programmes, but there is no structured collaboration. One of the founders of Food Heritage was member of the National Committee for Organic Agriculture (Ministry of Agriculture), but she has now left, and it seems that the whole committee is no longer functioning.

Currently, most organic certification is provided via IMC (Italy), since LibanCert (a local company) was shut down.

Agroecological practices

On their websites the 3 initiatives mention some of the objectives of the Nyéléni declaration, in particular:

  • Offering city residents direct contact with rural producers
  • Preserving agricultural traditions
  • Protecting the interest of small farmers and enabling them to compete with industrial and globalized food trade
  • Preserving the environment and protecting human health by promoting organic agriculture.

However, these partnerships are using “organic agriculture” as a synonym for “environmental protection”, without defining the main ecological principles behind it. Standardized organic agriculture principles do not necessarily coincide with those of agro-ecology as mentioned in the Nyéléni declaration. For example, a local certified organic producer, who participates to the farmer’s markets, imports “organic” feed for his 3,000 chickens from France, not taking the energy consumption of the shipping into consideration.

Perspectives

The current situation represents a major opportunity to encourage CSA and agro-ecology in Lebanon, especially as the urban consumers’ awareness about food issues is increasing. However the missing element is small farmers. There are not enough small farmers to be supported any more, as the rural areas are undergoing desertification. Before making efforts to support farmers to sell their produce, the permaculture activists in Lebanon are focusing on helping existing farmers to adopt agro-ecology and in parallel supporting the emergence of a new generation of farmers.

The association « Soils Permaculture Association Lebanon» has identified 5 actions to take to support CSA and other alternative food systems in Lebanon:

  1. Encourage the preservation, development and exchange of remaining heirloom seeds
  2. Develop educational infrastructure for agro-ecology (facilitators, programmes, educational material, demonstration sites, etc.)
  3. Facilitate access to land for new farmers (too much land is left uncultivated, because of legal problems and because of the high price of land);
  4. Enlarge access to funds to develop Agroecology on different levels (seed banks, training, land, demo sites, etc,).
  5. Develop organizations that advocate for small-scale farming and support grassroots agro-ecology initiatives rather than supporting large-scale agribusiness companies and interests.

[1] The figures given in this country report are provided by the report How were Lebanese Households Allocating Their Pay checks in 2012?.

[2]    Fawaz, 2011.